Regular readers will know that I’m something of an open carry advocate. While I wouldn’t want to surrender the tactical advantage of concealed carry, I “get” the political statement. There’s no better way to “normalize” guns than the put one on your hip in plain view; that’s the best way to make personal defense weapons an acceptable part of America’s open society. You know; if that’s something you want to do. I also understand how open carry could ward off evil. But there’s a downside to the open carry movement (indeed to any movement): it attracts zealots. People who are confrontational, and forget to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. Here’s a perfect example . . .

Brookfield police said Thursday they were called to the church at 13001 W. North Ave. about 10:30 a.m. by a church staffer who said a woman was wearing a handgun in a hip holster. By the time three squad cars arrived, Sutterfield was driving away. She was stopped, and police found the loaded 9mm gun in a zipped case on the passenger seat.

Oops! Wisconsin law 941.23 re: carrying a concealed weapon: “Any person except a peace officer who goes armed with a concealed and dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.”

Now you CAN transport a legal gun in Wisconsin as long as it’s unloaded in a case designed for a firearm. If it’s in reach and it can’t be seen, it’s considered a concealed weapon. If it’s in a firearms case, out of reach, hidden and unloaded (e.g. under a blanket in the back seat), you’re good to go. Go figure.

So, while Ms. Sutterfield may want to be a poster girl for open carry, she ended-up as a candidate for TTAG’s Irresponsible Gun Owner of the Day. Lucky for her, that slot was taken first thing this morning.

She was handcuffed, taken to the police station, processed and ticketed for having the loaded gun in her car – a state forfeiture citation, not a criminal offense. Sutterfield was then released.

She was not ticketed for openly carrying the weapon into the church, which did not have signs prohibiting firearms.

“We’ve referred the case to the district attorney,” Police Capt. Phil Horter said.

Sutterfield, 41, of Milwaukee, referred questions Thursday to her attorney, Rebecca Coffee, who said she couldn’t comment on her client’s intentions or actions Sunday.

This jsonline.com story includes a link to an interview with Mrs. Sutterfield: an open carry advocate who doesn’t want to reveal her face. Who left the site of her protest. Who acted alone. Who wouldn’t say anything about her cause after she’s arrested. See how that doesn’t work? But wait! There’s less!

Ms. Sutterfield isn’t even a member of the Unitarian Universalist church in question. Are we surprised when they were surprised to see a woman with a gun enter their spiritual (if not ballistic) sanctuary?

“I didn’t feel comfortable asking her why she was wearing the gun,” [Congregation president Caryl] Sewell said. “Truthfully, we found it very intimidating,” especially in light of the 2005 shootings at a church service at a Brookfield hotel that left eight people dead, and a 2008 shooting at a Unitarian church in Tennessee that killed two people.

Hmm. One wonders if reporter Bruce Vielmetti added that last bit. Funny he should mention it, though. That’s the same incident cited by Wisconsin Carry Inc.’s Prez when dismissing the suggestion that Ms. Butterfield screwed the pooch by openly carrying her Glock at an unfamiliar church.

“Churches are supposed to welcome everyone,” Nik Clark told TTAG. “We’ve had some tragedies in churches . . . The only crime that this woman committed was forgetting to unload her weapon. The cops had no reasonable suspicion to take her out of her car at gunpoint. We’re strongly considering taking legal action in this case.”

11 Responses to Police Arrest Open Carry Advocate; WI Gun Group Looking to Sue

  1. Something of an Open carry Advocate? Where?

    Seems to me you have done nothing more than jump on the WAVE bandwagon.

    Because you wouldn't carry a gun to church, no one should?

    You really should get all of your ducks in a row and at least have the facts straight.

    This woman stated she has attended the church on and off for the last 15 years or so.

    Maybe it is because the church doesn't have her name on a contribution list they don't consider her a member. After all money is everything, even to churches. All they care about is how much money a member can give.

    It is ironic that the sermon for that Sunday was related to civil rights and then the church's eletist president calls the police on someone for exercising one of those rights. I guess that makes the church president the lead hypocrite in a church full of hypocrites.

    How fitting that the media would support such hypocrisy.

  2. I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one on TV. I am a Certified Firearms trainer and I have been training Wisconsin citizens how to responsibly carry lethal force since 2004.

    Based upon the limited information available, this is what I believe will happen.

    It appears that prior to Ms. Sutterfield driving away in her car, the police had no reason to believe a law had been broken, was being broken or was about to be broken. Ms. Sutterfield was not accused of being disorderly or threatening to anyone or for that matter, having comitted any crime at all.

    The Attorney General's instruction in April 2009 to law enforcers was very clear about when a Terry stop was appropriate and I do not believe this event met the needed suspicion of criminal activity. "Finally, several law enforcement agencies have asked whether, in light of Article I, § 25, they may stop a person openly carrying a firearm in public to investigate possible criminal activity, including disorderly conduct. We say yes. An officer may stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes (known as an investigative or Terry stop) if he has “reasonable suspicion,” based on articulable facts, of criminal activity. Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123 (2000); United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968). The existence of reasonable suspicion depends on the totality of the circumstances, including the information known to the officer and any reasonable inferences to be drawn at the time of the stop. United States v. Arvizu, 544 U.S. 266 (2002) (reaffirming “totality of the circumstances” test). Even though open carry enjoys constitutional protection, it may still give rise to reasonable suspicion when considered in totality. It is not a shield against police investigation or subsequent prosecution. See State v. Anderson, 155 Wis. 2d 77, 84, 454 N.W.2d 763 (1990) (police officers not required to first eliminate the possibility of innocent behavior before making investigatory stop)."

    The Attorney General also advises law enforcers how to handle contact where there is no suspicion of criminal activity. "And “even when officers have no basis for suspecting a particular individual, they may generally ask questions of that individual, [and] ask to examine the individual's identification,” as long as the police do not convey a message that compliance is mandatory. Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434-35 (1991). The Fourth Amendment does not prevent police from making voluntary or consensual contact with persons engaged in constitutionally protected conduct. See United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 553-54 (1980). Accordingly, a law enforcement officer does not violate the Fourth Amendment by approaching an individual in public and asking questions. Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 497 (1983). An officer may approach and question someone as long as the questions, the circumstances and the officer's behavior do not convey to the subject that he must comply with the requests. Bostick, 501 U.S. at 435-36. The person approached need not answer any questions. As long as he or she remains free to walk away, there has been no intrusion on liberty requiring a particularized and objective Fourth Amendment justification. See Mendenhall, 446 U.S. at 554."

    Although police may stop and investigate an armed citizen, there is a huge "if he has reasonable suspicion, based on articulable facts, of criminal activity" necessary. The police decided to stop her only because she attended an open church service armed, and was absent of any articulable facts of criminal activity. This police stop (three squads) was clearly not voluntary and was not otherwise justified.

    Therefore, any subsequent search of her vehicle and her arrest for what the police found was a Fourth Amendment violation against an illegal search and siezure. So, she should get off on a technicality. The police could be sued.

    This is my opinion and your mileage may vary.

    Having said that, I do not condone her breaking the vehicle transportation law (167.31 Safe use and transportation of firearms and bows), either knowingly or not. Everyone who goes armed in public had better first understand all the applicable laws associated with lawful carry including the lawful use of lethal force. Training is available so that you can survive the physical attack, the legal attack and financial attack. Becoming formally educated is better done before the gun goes bang or being handcuffed by the police because that is the worst time to find out what you don't know. If you do this wrong, you risk loosing your home, family, job, friends, assets and your liberty for a very long time. That is the truth about guns.

  3. Robert,

    Can we agree that the right to worship is an individual right and is protected by the US Constitution?

    Would you dare suggest (in the spirit of common sense) that a person must first ask permission from the church Prez to attend their service? Or, would you also say it is only common sense to ask the church Prez for permission to speak in church? Where do you draw the line? Where do you get your idea of what is common sense?

    Why do you believe that our right to be armed, is somehow of lesser importance than any other right? Is that your truth about guns? Do you freely exercise any of your other rights without first asking someone elses permission? I fail to understand how it is common sense to ask anyone for permission before exercising any right.

    For whatever it is worth, Wis. Stat. § 941.23 is the states 138 year old open carry law which provides statutory authority by forcing citizens to openly carry their weapon.

    This authority is protected by Art. I, § 25 of the Wisconsin Constitution.

    No permission needed.

  4. Gene,

    I didn't say a pistol-packing open carry advocate HAD to clear their church attendance with the Congregation's rep prior to attendance. I said they SHOULD. Why 'cause trouble in a church for Christ's sake?

    Constitutionally protected freedom of religion or not, most churches (like this one) are on private property. The landowner has the right to prohibit firearms on their property. The news story said that's exactly what the Unitarians plan on doing. Wouldn't it be sensible to ask if they were OK with guns before bringing them in? I'm sure there are plenty of churches that wouldn't mind.

    Perhaps it's all about the letter of the law vs. the [Holy] spirit. But again, why scare/anger people when you don't have to? Confrontation has its place. I'm thinking that's outside of a house of worship, or by pre-arrangement.

    Respect. If you want it, give it.

  5. James,

    Thanks for the comment. I do not consider my personal preferences the be-all, end-all in any firearms-related debate. As I stated in the post; I wrote the lede as a kind of fair disclosure deal.

    While I appreciate your indignation, a small amount of common sense is needed here. It’s one thing to exercise your legal rights, it’s another to do so in a blatantly antagonistic/insensitive way. Which you CAN do, but I don’t recommend.

    Ms. Butterfield could have had a quiet word with the church Prez introducing herself and (gasp!) asking if it was OK for her to bring in a gun before she sat down for the sermon. A little common decency and discretion may have [largely] alleviated fears that Butterfield was a potential danger to the congregation.

    What would have been the harm in that?

  6. If the church didn’t have a sign that said “no guns allowed,” then I don’t know how anyone would know guns were banned on church private property. …which should indeed trump the open-carry law. That same “private property” idea should also trump the no-smoking bans, but of course they don’t because the laws are rigged.

    Would it have been nice to ask the church about carrying a gun? Sure. Especially when people who live in open-carry states still aren’t used to people actually doing so. However, if the church staffer didn’t ask her why she had the gun or ask her to remove it while in church or whatever, and instead simply called the cops, then that’s a failure on their part. I can’t think of any good reason the cops had to stop her later.

    “The person approached need not answer any questions. As long as he or she remains free to walk away, there has been no intrusion on liberty” <– remember stuff like this. It can be very important when talking to a cop. You might think you have to answer their "just askin'" questions, but if you ask them, "Officer, am I free to go?" and they say yes, then you can go do what you want. If they say no, politely ask them why. etc.

    A lot of people don't realize things like that. You generally don't have to show ID, either, unless they have reasonable suspicion or maybe you're a witness to an accident or are asked during a traffic stop. (Those damn traffic stops… where they make up some bs to pull you over, "Oh, you were, uh, swerving a little, yeah, that's it, swerving…" so then can check you out and also run your ID through the computer.)

    You don't legally have to show your receipt when walking out of Walmart or wherever, either, nor do you have to wait for a cop to show up if they call one. Although I suppose it's possible they could take your picture and try banning you from the store in the future, which then means you can't shop there anymore, so that's probably not good.

    Another one is "You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you," and then they start asking you a bunch of questions. He just told you anything you say can be used against you, so why are you talking!?

  7. Who left the site of her protest. Who acted alone. Who wouldn’t say anything about her cause after she’s arrested.”
    I didn’t _have_ a protest in the first place – I went to church.
    I didn’t do it out of activism, I just wanted to hear the sermon.
    I didn’t carry my gun out of activism, either; I carry pretty much everywhere.
    Yes, I went to church alone. And your point is…?
    Since I didn’t have a ’cause’, of course I couldn’t say anything about it.
    And no, I don’t like having pictures taken of me. That includes being on video camera. It’s a long-standing character flaw.

    ticketed for having the loaded gun in her car
    I was not then, nor have I yet been, ticketed.
    The ‘offense’ for which I was arrested is the legal equivalent of running a stop sign.
    Do people get taken out of their cars at gunpoint for running a stop sign?
    Are people arrested for running a stop sign?
    Are their cars taken away for running a stop sign?

    isn’t even a member of the Unitarian Universalist church in question
    Why should that mean I’m not allowed to attend services there? Up until Sunday, I considered myself a UU for close to 20 years. In fact, that morning I left my contact info at their membership table & asked about the new member class. How does one know a church is a good fit without attending services?

    And from what the president of the congregation said in her interview, AFTER the service – well more than an hour after I arrived – someone called the non-emergency number to ask the police if what I was doing was legal. They did not ask for police to come, they only wanted information. Police responded with six cars. I didn’t count badges, but there were definitely six cars.

    • MKEgal,

      thank you for clarifying your side of this. Your comments make sense to me. It amazing to me to see the spin put on this issue; for people to tell the world what you were doing and why; for people to pass judgement on a congregation; all without actually knowing the facts!

  8. Mr Farago,

    It is you who is not using common sense when you immediately assume all of the details in the situation. The sermon was based on civil rights and a person exercising one of her rights during the sermon should have been more than acceptable. Unless the church is filled with hypocrites, which is apparent at this time. It would seem the church is run under a dictatorship of the hypocritical president who apparently makes all decisions for the church.

    As far as bringing a gun to church causing trouble, you need to read up on the past incidents where lives were saved because someone brought a gun to church and were able to stop a renegade shooter. Legally carrying a firearm does not make one a criminal. I think the members of the church should have been the ones giving this woman the respect she deserves for exercising her rights. Rights I might add that I and many other veterans have served and fought for.

    I have to wonder if you will be so eager to print the outcome of this womans civil suit when she wins.

    While Mr. German has some points on the rights violation in this case. I disagree on his position on a loaded firearm in a vehicle. Your vehicle is your property, it is an extension of your home. Why would your right to self defense be any different in your vehicle than it is in your home? It isn't. The law is unconstitutional and in being so is an infringement on our rights and nothing more. I hope more people in this state start disregarding these unconstitutional laws. If the money grubbing legislators in this state don't want to make the changes, then I guess those changes will have to be made through the court system.

    I knew it wouldn't be long before a Concealed Carry Instructor came in on this story and gave the old sales pitch as to why everyone should pay them for "training."

    It is Hog Wash. They are only interested in your money and Gene German is from Minnesota so why does he care what happens here in Wisconsin? He is also an instructor that is constantly urging legislators to impose mandated training so he and his pals can fill their pockets off of the tax payers.

    We do not to have any training to exercise any other rights so why should we have to have it for this one. I personally will not vote for any candidate that does not support Constitutional Carry here in Wisconsin and I hope many others will follow suit.

    I thought this was suppose to be "The truth about guns." It seems it is only the truth that the anti's and WAVE want you to know rather than the real truth.

    An armed society is a polite society!

    • As an update to the update, the city of Brookfield had paid several thousand dollars for the illegal actions of their officers that morning, settling the federal civil rights suit.
      Of course, no amount of money can possibly make up for the problems they caused by their crimes. I wish their crimes were prosecuted.

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